No matter the season, if families are hunting in our state’s beautiful wilderness, the Emergency Department at Arkansas Children’s Hospital is treating injuries associated with guns, ATVs or basic slips and falls.
We want to offer all the resources possible to help hunters have a successful season that isn’t marred by any kind of preventable injury. We want you to make great memories in the duck blinds and deer stands. What we don’t want is for you to need a trip to ACH or any other hospital this fall.
So what can you do to ensure that doesn’t happen? Start with basic hunter safety. The Injury Prevention Center at ACH offers 10 tips for gun safety that are an excellent reminder for even seasoned hunters. If you have younger marksmen in your camp, though, it is especially important to go over these with them.
1. Always treat a gun as if it is loaded. Every hospital in Arkansas treats injuries this time of year because someone thought the gun wasn’t loaded and it actually was. Don’t make this mistake.
2. Always know where the gun is pointed. Keep an eye on the barrel and don’t move it around quickly without checking the scene first. Teenagers are notorious for doing this because they don’t think about the person next to them who is just outside their peripheral vision.
3. Unload guns when not in use. This can help you prevent an accidental shooting the next time the gun is handled.
4. Make sure the barrel is free of debris before you load the gun. This basic tip ensures a safer experience for everyone in your party.
5. Be sure of your target before you pull the trigger. Having a specific target, careful aim and watching for others nearby reduces the chance of injuries.
6. Only point a gun at something you plan to shoot. You never want the firearm to discharge in the direction of any person nearby.
7. If you climb a stand, tree, fence or cross a ditch, make sure all firearms are unloaded. A gun can easily go off because of a bump or pull in the wrong direction. Do not load the gun until you are in a safe position.
8. Flat hard surfaces and water are unsafe to shoot at. This could cause ammunition to ricochet and hurt others nearby.
9. Guns and ammunition should be stored in separate locked cabinets. Keeping them separate helps you know that the gun isn’t loaded and makes it harder for anyone who accesses the cabinet, including children, to load the gun and discharge it.
10. Only hunt and participate in target practice while sober. Using firearms is dangerous and any kind of alcohol or drug can greatly impair your judgment.
In addition, all hunters in this state are required by law to complete the state Hunter Safety Education Class taught by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. If you need to sign up or have an older child complete the course, contact (800) 364-4263 or (501) 223-6300.
Sometimes there is so much focus on gun safety that hunters forget the importance of other basic steps they should take to protect themselves. While we can’t say exactly how many, we know that fall, slips, near drownings and exposure to the cold account for a large share of hunting injuries we see at ACH.
Watch every step carefully, especially when hunting near bodies of water. While "Arkansas cold" doesn’t seem all that chilly to many people in thick hunting gear, if they slip in water or their waders become submerged, hypothermia is a definite possibility. Dress warmly and in a way that will protect your body for the length of time you’ll be exposed to the elements. Also change quickly if possible when clothes are wet and cold.
If you are taking a son or daughter with you hunting, remember that minors need to be with an adult who has passed the hunting safety education course. You should always have a specific plan for where you’ll be hunting, and an adult who isn’t going on the trip should know your location and the time you plan to return.
Throughout the year, the Emergency and Surgery Departments at ACH treat dozens of children injured riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). We know these are popular with hunting families because of their convenience. But ATVs should never be driven by underage drivers or on paved surfaces. Only drive them off road, even on hunting trips.
The best thing you can do when riding an ATV is to make sure you wear a helmet and that the ATV doesn’t have more passengers than it is built to carry. Never take a loaded gun on an ATV or any other vehicle. Always unload the firearm and secure it in a suitable gun case while traveling.
Hunting is a great recreational sport, and it often gives families important bonding time with their sons and daughters. Follow safe hunting practices and everyone will walk away with long-lasting memories instead of long-lasting injuries.
Sam Smith, MD, is surgeon in chief at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a professor of Surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He writes a column each week covering a variety of kids’ medical concerns. If you have a topic you’d like him to consider addressing, email firstname.lastname@example.org.